Riabilitazione Disabilità Ong Julian Rizzon ©Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi3
Victoria Lee

Rehabilitation is not much about healthcare, it’s about human rights

10 April Apr 2019 1711 10 April 2019
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According to Victoria Lee, Human Rights and Disability Team, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Serious human rights violations have been committed in the name of rehabilitation, and continue to be committed; separation from families and communities, forced institutionalization and the treatment with useless, invasive and painful medical procedures”. Here is why these two words are so central for a cooperation to development based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Speaking about disability in cooperation to development is very different from what the greatest part of us imagine. Bringing doctors and physiotherapists is not enough, and has not been enough for many years, maybe decades. The future of cooperation to development, with regard to disability, is being written now, with new languages and new tools, in the light of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The International conference: “Being a person. Disability in the world: which rights, inclusion and rehabilitation?”, promoted by Aifo, Don Gnocchi Foundation and Ovci, was held on 5-6 April in Milan. We have met Victoria Lee, Human Rights and Disability Team, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.​

V Lee

Victoria Lee

How has the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities changed disability policies in the countries that have ratified it?
The value of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is that it brings a clear human rights based approach to disability and calls on States and stakeholders to abolish discriminatory laws, policies and practices and ensure the participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities. The principles of the CRPD, enshrined in Article 3 of the CRPD, act as the touchstone against which all actions should be measured against to ensure respect for the rights of persons with disabilities. Further, the CRPD’s provisions constitute legally binding obligations on States across the full panoply of rights including civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights and serve as the guiding tool for inclusive development including realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals. While there remain challenges and, at times, resistance to fully grasping and putting into practice the CRPD, today there are increasingly positive and promising examples of legal and policy reform which break free from previous approaches which treated persons with disabilities as second class citizens and introduce transformative and inclusive equality for persons with disabilities.

These reforms embrace the CRPD and the CRPD Committee’s jurisprudence across all sectors – relating to political participation, inclusive education, living in the community, access to justice, health, legal capacity, among others, and also apply to actions led by States abroad, such as through international cooperation and development.

A clear result of such reform is greater inclusion, not only for girls and boys, women and men with disabilities, but for everyone. Its principles and provisions benefit us all because they strengthen our responses against exclusion and segregation, and illustrate that reaching the furthest behind first is the key to leaving no on behind.

How has the Convention changed International Cooperation’s programs?
In recognition that international cooperation plays a key role in supporting national efforts to implement policies and uphold human rights, Article 32 of the CRPD spells out that States are also obliged to ensure that international cooperation including international development programmes, is inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities. This provision makes it clear that States must partner with organisations of persons with disabilities- as both agents and beneficiaries- in the design, implementation and evaluation of programmes, and to assess the impact of all projects and programmes (whether mainstream or disability-specific) on persons with disabilities – not only to promote the rights and development of the diversity of persons with disabilities, including those most marginalised (women and girls, children, older persons, indigenous persons, migrants, etc), but also to avoid the creation of or sustaining of barriers to their inclusion. Since the CRPD has come into force, there are growing efforts to embed these obligations across international cooperation programmes, including States, regional and intergovernmental organisations and other donors.

Which are the most interesting and innovative approaches and tools?
OHCHR is carrying out the first component of the EU funded Bridging the Gap project (BtG), to develop tools to facilitate SDGs implementation guided by the CRPD- including human rights indicators on the CRPD, guidelines for policymakers on implementing the SDGs informed by the CRPD and a guidance on data sources to populate indicators. These tools offer concrete measures for progress in realising the rights of persons with disabilities for a coordinated and coherent approach by all stakeholders – States as the primary duty bearers, but also international cooperation actors, the private sector, organisations of persons with disabilities and civil society to monitor CRPD implementation and to hold duty bearers accountable.

These tools have been providing guidance to the second component of BtG involving projects in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Sudan, Paraguay and Ecuador to contribute to the socio-economic inclusion, equality and non-discrimination of persons with disabilities through more inclusive and accountable institutions and policies.

The BtG project is a demonstration of effective international cooperation inclusive of persons with disabilities which has been designed and being implemented with national and regional organisations of persons with disabilities – both within the donor countries, as well as the beneficiary countries.

Can you shortly describe one or two best practices?
Institutionalising consultation and participation of organisations of persons with disabilities
The General Law on Persons with Disabilities of Peru, Law no 29973 of 2012 provides for a right to consultation under Article 14 which stipulates that “the authorities of the different sectors and levels of government have an obligation to consult with organisations representing people with disabilities prior to the adoption of legislative and administrative regulations, policies and programs on disability issue. Consultation processes are developed on the basis of the principles of accessibility, good faith, timeliness and transparency.”

Another good example of formalising consultation of organisations of persons with disabilities, relating specifically to international cooperation concerns the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia (DFAT) which utilises the Aid Quality Check reporting process which requires programs to report on the participation of people with disabilities/DPOs in planning, as well as report on program measures that reduce barriers and enable people with disabilities to benefit from the investment . This helps to create systemic change to make DPO engagement standard practice for DFAT programs.

- Tracking disability-inclusive development assistance
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) approved the introduction of a policy marker to flag aid flows relating to the inclusion and empowerment of people with disabilities, and a handbook to guide reporting on the disability marker is currently being developed for finalisation in September 2019. This information will track disability inclusive aid flows to identify gaps in sectors and populations for more effective aid allocation.

UNDP and other international development agencies had adopted similar disability inclusion markers for example: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Department for International Development of the UK, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia.

Article 26 of the Convention provides that States parties must take habilitation and rehabilitation measures to enable persons with disabilities to attain and maintain maximum independence, full physical, mental, social and vocational ability, and full inclusion and participation in all aspects of life. What does it means and what about the OHCHR report about it?
Habilitation and rehabilitation are a set of interventions designed to optimize the functioning of individuals with impairments in interaction with their environment whose purpose is to contribute to the independence of persons with disabilities and their participation in society. The fact that they are contained in a stand-alone article, Article 26, increases their visibility as an important strategy for ensuring the participation of persons with disabilities in society. However, achieving maximum functioning is not enough to ensure the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in society, as there are attitudinal and environmental barriers that prevent it. Consequently, habilitation and rehabilitation should not be misinterpreted as the only strategy to achieve that goal.

With a focus on optimising functioning, it is easy to fall back to a medical model approach to disability with respect to habilitation and rehabilitation, particularly given the context in which they first emerged, where action and policies related to persons with disabilities were primarily focused on “curing” or “fixing” a person’s impairment as a precondition for their participation in society. Serious violations of human rights were committed - and continue to be- in the name of rehabilitation including separation from families and communities, forced institutionalisation and treatment involving unnecessary, invasive and painful medical procedures.

This background led to the general consensus during the drafting of the CRPD to ensure an intersectoral approach to rehabilitation from a human rights perspective. Article 26 of the Convention addresses the empowerment and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities in an integral manner, which also engages services and programs in the fields of health, employment, education and social services. Article 26 thus establishes a unifying framework for the provision of coordinated and comprehensive habilitation and rehabilitation services that start at the earliest possible stage, based on multi-disciplinary evaluation, support participation and inclusion, are voluntary and available to people with disabilities as close as possible to their own communities. They must be embedded in human rights through respect for free and informed consent, non-discrimination, participation, availability, affordability and accessibility.

There is a pressing need to scale up habilitation and rehabilitation services for persons with disabilities and efforts should be made as part of broad policies that are inclusive of persons with disabilities and their rights. In implementing the provisions of article 26 of the Convention, it is recommended that States parties should strengthen: policy and legal frameworks for comprehensive, high-quality habilitation and rehabilitation services promoting a person-centred, rights-based and participatory approach to rehabilitation; coordination mechanisms for a comprehensive approach among State agencies; multidisciplinary and trained habilitation and rehabilitation workforce; funding mechanisms to ensure access to services; awareness-raising focusing on a human rights-based approach to disability; and research and the collection of disaggregated data.